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24 April 2015

5 ways church leaders can support prison ministry


by Gillian Pegler

There's a prison in my city. I've known about it since I was a child, but it didn't occur to me that there are hundreds of people living and working there until 2006. Now I run a ministry that provides biblical resources for use in prisons.

Do you know where your local prison is, and how many live and work there? Have you ever thought about how your church could support your local prison chaplaincy and the ministries that work alongside them? Here are a few ways your church could get involved:

  1. Find out what Christian support your local prison has
    Contact your local prison chaplain to find out their identified needs, courses and the groups they run. Ask if there is a prison ministry based in your area and the involvement visitors have in Sunday services.
  1. Adopt a chaplain or prison ministry
    This is a way that you can stand alongside a prison chaplain or a ministry. Keep up to date with them, get regular prayer points and commit to pray. Maybe some of your congregation want to be actively involved, too.
  1. Invite them to speak
    Ask your chaplain or prison ministry to speak to your church about their work and the effect the gospel is having on prisoners' lives. Stories of changed lives are inspiring and break down barriers.
  1. Financial and practical support
    Could you support a specific project or pay for the resources to run a course;leaders' manuals, DVDs or refreshments, for example? Maybe you could bulk order a Christian book as a gift to the chaplaincy or give a ministry group office space or use of your office facilities.

  2. Support ex-offenders
    Supporting an ex-offender takes time, commitment, energy and vision, but it's probably the most rewarding thing you can do in support of your local chaplaincy or prison ministry. Shockingly, 45.2 per cent of prisoners released in the UK are reconvicted within a year. Support from a church can help an individual reintegrate into the community successfully, and have a better chance of staying out of prison.

Imagine being released from prison as a new Christian with no church connections.On the first Sunday morning of freedom, if nothing has happened to distract you from your good intentions to go to church, you walk into a church you don't know, full of people you don't know who are singing songs you don't know and sitting down and standing up at apparently random times. And you're convinced that everybody can tell you've just come out of prison. You're not going to hang around long, are you?

Now imagine you became a Christian in prison and were introduced to one or two people from your local church by the chaplain or someone in prison ministry. These people came into the prison to meet you and were genuinely interested in you. On your first Sunday of freedom, you get a bit distracted by so many other things you could be doing, but then you remember the people who promised to be at the church to meet you and sit with you. So you go along to the church, a bit nervous, but you know you won't be on your own.

After the service, they introduce you to some more friendly Christians and suggest some things to do during the week that will help you grow in your faith and keep you out of trouble. You feel welcome and you know this church really wants to help you regardless of your past.

You, as a church leader, can offer this help.

Gillian Pegler runs Time For Change Ministries, which provides biblical resources for prison ministry, and is a member of her local prison chaplaincy team.